Last month Robert Hazell and Bob Morris published two reports about the next Accession and Coronation, which were discussed in a previous blog. Along the way they gathered a lot of extra information, which has now been published on the Monarchy pages of the Constitution Unit website. The following represents a selection of the most frequently asked questions.
1. Will Prince Charles become King Charles III?
Not necessarily. He is free to choose his own regnal title. King Edward VII chose Edward as his regnal title, although hitherto he had been known by his first name of Albert. King Edward VIII also chose Edward as his regnal title, although he was known to his family and friends as David. Prince Charles’s Christian names are Charles Philip Arthur George. Instead of becoming King Charles he might choose to become King George VII, or King Philip, or King Arthur, although Clarence House has denied this in the past.
2. Will the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen Camilla?
Under common law the spouse of a King automatically becomes Queen. But there are two possible reasons why Camilla, who is currently the Duchess of Cornwall, might not assume the title. The first is the argument voiced by the Daily Mirror and Mail Online, that Camilla cannot become Queen because her 2005 civil marriage to Prince Charles was not valid. The argument runs as follows: because the Marriage Acts from 1753 have explicitly excepted royal marriages from their provisions, the only valid marriage which a member of the royal family could contract in England was a religious marriage in the Church of England. The Lord Chancellor in 2005 defended the validity of the Prince’s civil marriage, as did the Registrar General. But if Camilla became Queen, it might provoke further legal challenges.
The second possible reason is public opinion. In deference to public opinion, Camilla has not assumed the title Princess of Wales. Prince Charles will no doubt have regard to public opinion at the time of his accession, in deciding whether Camilla should become Queen; and he may also want to seek the advice of the government of the day. The fallback position is that Camilla would become Princess Consort as announced at the time of their marriage.
3. Will Prince William become Prince of Wales?
Charles was created Prince of Wales in 1958 when he was aged 10, with an investiture at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. As an adult, Prince William might expect to become Prince of Wales soon after his father’s accession; but that will be a matter for the new King to decide because, strictly, the title is not heritable.
4. Why can we not have Prince William as King?
Under common law, Prince Charles will automatically become King the moment the Queen dies. Prince William could only become King if Prince Charles chose to abdicate. That would require legislation, as happened with the Declaration of Abdication Act 1936. The line of succession is regulated by parliament (as in the Act of Settlement 1700, and the Succession to the Crown Act 2013); it can be changed only by parliament and cannot be unilaterally altered by the monarch.
5. Might Prince Charles abdicate in favour of William?
That would be a matter for Prince Charles, and for parliament. For the Queen, abdication is said to be unthinkable, for two reasons. The first is the bad example of Edward VIII: his abdication brought the Queen’s father onto the throne, unexpectedly and most reluctantly. The second is her declaration on her 21st birthday that she would serve for her whole life whether it be long or short. She is also said to regard her oath at her coronation as imposing a sacred duty to reign as long as she shall live.
Having waited over 60 years as heir apparent, it would be perfectly natural for Prince Charles to want to assume the throne and perform the royal duties for which he has spent so long preparing in waiting. But it would be equally natural if, after reigning for a few years as an increasingly elderly monarch, he chose to invite parliament to hand on the throne to Prince William.
6. Don’t other European monarchs abdicate on a regular basis?
Some do, some don’t. In the Netherlands the last three Queens have abdicated when they reached the age of around 70. In Belgium, King Albert II abdicated in 2013, at the age of 79, handing on the throne to his son King Philippe (53). In Spain, King Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, at the age of 76, to be succeeded by his son Felipe (46). Emperor Akihito of Japan (84) is due to abdicate in April 2019. In his case, special legislation had to be drafted in order to enable his abdication.
The Scandinavian monarchies, by contrast, do not practise abdication. King Harald of Norway, who reached the age of 80 in 2017, said “I took an oath on the Norwegian constitution. For me, this oath applies to my entire life”. Similarly, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (aged 78, and recently widowed) has declared, “I will remain on the throne until I fall off”.
7. Will Charles only become King once he has been proclaimed by the Accession Council; or crowned at his coronation?
No: Charles will become King the moment the Queen dies. The Accession Council merely acknowledges and proclaims that he is the new King, following the death of the Queen. It is not necessary for the monarch to be crowned in order to become King: Edward VIII reigned as King without ever being crowned.
8. Which other European monarchies have a coronation?
None of the other European monarchies have a coronation. Belgium and the Netherlands have never had one; Denmark, Norway and Sweden discontinued theirs from 1849, 1908 and 1873 respectively; and there have been no coronations in Spain since medieval times.
9. Will the coronation be like the Royal wedding?
No. Although watched on television by millions, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was essentially a private affair: they decided on the guest list, and the form of the service. The coronation by contrast is a state occasion. Prince Charles may have views, but the government will have ultimate control of the guest list, and the government pays for the coronation.
10. Could we have a multi-faith coronation?
It is expected that the coronation will continue to be an Anglican service, but finding a place for other Christian denominations and other religions: as happened at the recent royal wedding, and as practised for some years at the Abbey’s Commonwealth Day services. Such people may be invited to give readings; and religious leaders other than Anglicans are likely to be seated prominently, as happened at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee service at St Paul’s in 2012.
About the authors
Robert Hazell is a former Director of the Constitution Unit and led its project on Accession and Coronation Oaths. The associated reports (Swearing in the New King and Inaugurating a New Reign) were published on 23 May.
Dr Bob Morris is a former Home Office career civil servant and a member of honorary staff at the Constitution Unit.